Review: Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life

Harvest Moon is a long running game series that's created an impressive number of dedicated followers. The series began on the Super NES, continued on the Game Boy for a few titles and then made it's way to just about every major console available, from the N64 to the Playstation 1 and 2, and of course the GBA. That was quite a long sentence, but Harvest Moon has quite a long history. This history now finally gets a new chapter on our beloved Gamecube in the form of Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. If you've never played or even heard of Harvest Moon games before, you're in for a treat. You see, somehow the guys and girls at Natsume have found the recipe for extremely simple yet utterly addictive gameplay, and they're willing to share it with everyone. But we're getting ahead of ourselves, this isn't the conlusion yet, it's just the intro!


Your first farm:

Harvest Moon is what you could call a farming sim. This means just what it says, it simulates a farmer's life. You begin playing a young fellow who's just inherited a farm from his father. Your father's old farming partner Takakura explains to you your father's dying wish was that his farm would live on under the care of his son. Takakura is prepared to help you out on the farm if you agree to fulfill your father's last wish. After he fills you in on the farming basics you're pretty much on your own. Since the game's manual doesn't offer any help at all you have no choice but to experiment. By talking to the villagers and looking at objects you bought or found you can learn a lot though. After a while you slowly start to schedule days in way you can acomplish your farming tasks, socialize with the other villagers and even spare some time to catch a few fish and pick a few nice flowers. If you haven't had any Harvest Moon experiences yet it may still be vague what it is you exactly do in this game. To make things clearer we've described a typical day in Harvest Moon's Forget-Me-Not Valley.


A day in the life of...:

Like a real farmer you get up while the cattle is still sleeping, so around 5 A.M. you stumble out of bed. You check the television to see if there's any bad weather coming your way. Satisfied with the lovely weather you hurry outside, you plan on getting some work done before the sun is up today. After watering your tomato plants and your apple tree you hurry over to the chicken barn. One by one you carry your chickens outside, they like the walking space plus you don't have to feed them when they're outside. When the chickens are outside it's time to call your cattle outside. After brushing and milking your cows it's 8 A.M. and you finally have some spare time.


You decide to go pick a few nice flowers at the pond for Celia, the farmgirl that's stolen your heart. On your way to the pond near the waterfall you decide spend a little time trying to catch a nice fish to sell later this week when the traveling merchant visits the town. With a bunch of nice flowers and a few tasty fish you return to your farm, on your way you notice you've been fishing a little longer than you planned, it's already 2 P.M.! You hurry back to do another round of watering and milking, stopping on your way to collect the eggs your chickens laid during the day. To your surprise you find a golden egg among the regular chicken eggs, all your being nice to your chickens must've finally paid off! You put the golden egg, the other eggs and today's milk ready for Takakura to sell them the day after. Happy with your golden catch you decide to go to the village to socialize for a bit.


As soon as you're halfway there though it's starts raining. You curse yourself for not watching the weather prediction for the second half of the day as you run back to the farm, if you don't get your animals inside quickly they'll be sick before you know it. Before you head of to the village again you look sadly at the field you just watered crop for crop, which is now being watered by itself. In the village you run into Celia, you give her one of the flowers you picked which she gladly accepts. After a visit to the mansion and the bar you notice it's starting to get dark already, so you head back to the farm once again. Before you go to sleep you check if all your animals have enough food for the night. As you walk back to your house you make plans for the next day. You're gonna have to spend more time with your cattle, the milk quality has been going down the past days. With good hopes for the next day you go to bed around 11 P.M.


A game to grow old with:

A Wonderful Life's storyline spans an impressive thirty years, of those years you get to play ten, the rest is explained to you in cutscenes. A day like the one we described takes you about 25 minutes to play through, so if you want to finish this game you'll be occupied for at least 160 hours. During these years your character, your farm and the village around it will gradually evolve, the family you raise will grow, old villagers will leave or die, new villagers will move in, new houses will even be built. This makes it feel like the game is not just built around you, the villagers don't wait in their houses untill you visit them, they walk around and visit other villagers as well. Between all these villagers with their own agendas there's still a storyline though. The game is divided into six chapters, each stands for a period in the life of a farmer.


The first year is your orientation year, you'll have to find out a lot about farming, Takakura will tell you a lot but you'll have to find out most things for yourself. You'll also have to get used to the controls, which are not always comfertable. The analogue stick tends to react a bit too sensitive when you're watering your crops for example, but you get used to it all fairly quickly. This is also the year in which you'll make the most important decision in the game; you have to choose which girl you want to marry. Not only do you have to choose one, you'll also have to woo them into marrying you. This means finding out what kind of presents they like and giving them something they like every day untill you can pop the big question. The choice you make in this chapter has consequences for the rest of the game, as you'll have to spend the rest of your life with the woman you wed in this chapter. The first chapter is about the same length as an average game, you'll spent about 18 hours getting through this introductory chapter. It's also the shortest chapter in the game!


No perfect days:

On paper it seems like you can play the rest of the game on auto-pilot when you've found a good day rhythm, that's far from true though. First of all, finding this perfect rhythm is more difficult than it sounds, there are a lot of things and people that demand your attention. If you give the villagers lots of presents they'll give you handy things for your farm in return, but you'll lose a lot of precious farmtime collecting all these presents. Even within the time you'll dedicate to your farm you'll have to make choices, your cows need food, attention and need to be milked regularly, your chickens also need food and attention, planting crops takes a lot of time and they need to be watered regularly. Secondly, even if you would find a near perfect balance, you wouldn't be able to keep it up for very long. Every season changes the way you have to do your tasks, wild plants and flowers grow in different places, cows give less milk in some seasons, your crops need more watering in the summer and regular rainshowers can really kick your schedules upside down.


The game also has a tendency to force you to explore multiple ways of making money. If you earn all your money through milking cows, you'll be in for a nasty surprise when one of the stops giving milk. To get it to give milk again you have to impregnate the cow, wait for it to give birth and then wait untill the newborn calf doesn't need it's mother's special milk anymore, only then can you sell the cow's milk again. Concentrating one one type of crops is also impossible, since all crops have specific seasons in which they grow. Plant a crop in the wrong season and it'll wither after you've spent a lot of time watering it. You also get new responsibilities every time you enter a new chapter in the story. If you though taking care of yourself and your animals in the first year was though, wait untill you have to support a whole family later on in the game! All these things may seem frustrating, you never seem to be able to do everyhing right, but they are what makes the game challenging and addicting. Every time you play you try do do it better than the last time. If things do work out well, Harvest Moon is very rewarding. You'll be surprised how happy your cow can make you when he gives you S-milk, for which you can get a lot more money than the regular A-milk.


Final Say:

It's hard to describe the charm of Harvest Moon games. Maybe it's the fact that you're doing something constructive, all your actions consequences. Your farm will do well if you give it lots of attention, but you also have to keep your family and your friends happy which can lead to difficult situations. If you balance everything well though, you're bound to have a prosperous farming life. It can also be the fact that you're being creative while playing a game. Usually all the creative efforts stop the moment the developers finish making the game. In Harvest Moon you make choices that change your game all the time though; Do you want to concentrate on milking cattle or do you want to earn your money growing crops and trees? Do you want to marry the shy farmgirl, the straightforward barman's daughter or the redhead that's playing hard to get? Once you do get settled, do you want to raise your son to be a farmer or are you okay with him leaving the farmland for the big city?

Maybe it's one of those reasons, maybe farming is just a very relaxing and addictive occupation, who knows? For whatever reason though, Harvest Moon is a great game, perfectly suitable for just about anybody. Stay clear of this game if you don't have time to play lots of it though, because after you get used to life on the farm it's hard to turn back.

N-Europe Final Verdict

A genuinely relaxing and addictive farming game

  • Gameplay4
  • Playability4
  • Visuals4
  • Audio3
  • Lifespan5
Final Score



Deadly addictive
160+ hours of gameplay!


Quite repetitive

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